IT MAY still be a week too early but Santa took to the skies of Oxfordshire yesterday armed with bags of presents.

The jolly old elf upgraded his traditional sleigh to a Puma helicopter, and touched down on the helipad of the John Radcliffe Hospital, with a little help from friends at RAF Benson, near Wallingford.

After making his way to the Oxford Children’s Hospital, Santa and the squadron handed out 82 presents across several wards and then left some more gifts under the Christmas tree.

RAF Benson spokeswoman Nikki Hamilton said: “We love being able to deliver a little Christmas cheer to children spending the festive period in the John Radcliffe.

“The hospital has provided fantastic support to many of our families over the years and they welcome the opportunity to give something back.

“It’s one of the highlights of the year for everyone involved.”

The visit, part of a training exercise, has become an annual tradition, bringing smiles to the children who are facing spending Christmas on the wards.

Patients and staff lined the steps of the hospital to welcome the arrivals at around 10.45am.

It is the latest in a number of visits so far this year, following special trips by Oxford United’s stars and the Sleigh2Give campaign.

It is also not the first time Santa has chosen to travel in style this season, after arriving at Notcutts Garden Centre Nuneham Courtenay in a vintage Rolls Royce.

Children who received visits are all currently patients on Kamran’s, Melanie’s, Bellhouse-Drayson and Tom’s wards.

Health Play Specialist Erica Watson, on behalf of the children’s hospital, said: “We’re extremely grateful to RAF Benson and Father Christmas for their continued support and donations this Christmas.

“Lots of children and staff came to watch Santa arrive by helicopter, including the children from the Pioneers nursery. This is a highlight around Christmas for them all.

“It was lovely to welcome some of the squadron helping Santa to give out the presents to the children on the wards. It was a very special event for all the children and their families who really enjoyed watching Santa arrive by helicopter."

She added: “Christmas gifts make a big difference to those in hospital over Christmas, and we really appreciate RAF Benson’s efforts to spread festive cheer among our young patients and their families.

“We all really enjoyed the visit.”